Welsh Secretary announces West Wales parkway plan
Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns wants a new train station to be built north of Swansea, slashing journey times between east and west Wales.
Mr Cairns is visiting Swansea on February 7 to talk to AMs and councillors about the West Wales Parkway proposal.
The Welsh Conservative MP said he was committed in principle to delivering the £20 million station, which he said would be built mainly on Network Rail-owned land at Felindre, near junction 46 of the M4.
Swansea Council leader Rob Stewart said he could only support the plan if it did not reduce the frequency of services to the city’s High Street station and was part of more comprehensive transport investment in Swansea and the surrounding area.
Mr Cairns said backing for the parkway station from the Welsh Government and Swansea Council, which both own adjoining land, was crucial as a car park would have to be built.
“I am really keen to deliver this,” he said.
“I really want to enhance the rail network – for too long the access to rail services in west Wales have not been good enough.”
Mr Cairns said the new parkway station on the Swansea District Line at Felindre would cut journey times between Port Talbot and Carmarthen, which are on the South Wales Main Line, by 14 minutes by missing out the Swansea and Neath dog-leg.
And with sufficient passenger demand, he said improvements on the Swansea District Line would be considered in the future – potentially cutting a further eight minutes off journey times.
Mr Cairns added: “We would also guarantee that services which go to Neath and Swansea should not be affected.”
The Clydach-born secretary of state said the West Wales Parkway would open up travel options for people in communities including the Swansea Valley, Pontlliw, Gorseinon and Llangyfelach.
The station could also serve major employers nearby like the DVLA and Morriston, taking cars off the road in the process.
Mr Cairns said it could boost the nearby business park Parc Felindre, which only has one tenant signed up to date, and also adjacent land which has been earmarked for a new 800-home community.
“I need positive engagement from the Welsh Government and Swansea Council,” he said.
“I have spoken to them before and they wanted to see a scoping study.
“Credit to the Welsh Government – they are very positive and open-minded. I think the council wanted to see more detail.”
The scoping study has been written by transport expert Professor Stuart Cole, of the University of South Wales, and the findings are due to be shared with MPs on February 6.
Asked if the public could be reassured on his commitment in principle, given the Government’s backtracking on rail electrification from Cardiff to Swansea, Mr Cairns reiterated the 14-minute journey savings, and added: “Electrification saved zero time between Cardiff and Swansea.”
Former Gower MP Byron Davies raised the profile of the parkway station concept two years ago.
“We need to be bolder and more daring in our thinking,” he said.
As a comparison, a parkway station on the outskirts of Bristol facilitated significant business and residential development, but it is linked to the city’s central station whereas there is no rail link between Felindre and Swansea’s High Street station.
Mr Cairns said the West Wales Parkway station could be served by public transport, and insisted it would benefit Wales’s second city.
“This is a major boost for Swansea,” he said.
Asked when he envisaged work starting on a West Wales Parkway, should his plan come to fruition, the Vale of Glamorgan MP replied: “As soon as possible.”
Local Government and business leaders in Swansea, as well as the Welsh Government, have been exploring a Swansea Bay Metro proposal to improve transport connections in the city and the wider area. It includes speeding up South Wales Main Line journey times between Swansea and Cardiff, and developing a Swansea Bay commuter circle line.
Cllr Stewart said the metro proposal would cost around £200 million.
“Swansea and the South West Wales region deserve a fair level of investment to ensure we can compete with other regions in the UK,” said the Swansea Labour leader.
“We have to consider the transport needs of the region and the Swansea Bay Metro proposal could be one of the key factors in driving growth and attracting further investment to South West Wales.”
Cllr Stewart said he welcomed having discussions with Mr Cairns, but added: “A new parkway station should be part of a Swansea Bay Metro network but it cannot be the only thing we get.”
He said he was worried that the parkway station on its own would divert trains away from Neath and Swansea.
“I can’t support something, as leader, which potentially damages the city,” he said.
Swansea West MP Geraint Davies said Wales had 11% of the UK’s rail network, 5% of its population but only 1.5% of rail expenditure.
The Labour MP said he backed the Swansea Bay Metro proposal as way of developing a link with Cardiff and Bristol.
“What we do not need is the Secretary of State for Wales coming along with his penny-farthing idea of an extra little Swansea parkway station, hoping that he can pat us on the head and give us a Brexit bung so that we will vote the right way,” said Mr Davies.